Recently I was part of a day looking at something called “missional listening” which is really all about tuning in to what God is saying and doing, as well as listening to the local community (and what might be ‘good news’ for the community), the church (and who the people of God feel God is sending them to) and ourselves (and how God is blessing, comforting, challenging or confronting us).
When it comes to missional listening there is bad news and there is good news. The bad news is that we all have brilliant, efficient minds – we know where to go for coffee, for food, R&R, we know who to speak to …and who to avoid - in fact we are so good you no longer need to look very much, or listen…because we know what we need to see and hear and so you ignore everything else. This is well documented, Jonathan Haidt, Margaret Heffernan and a variety of authors have shown our neurological laziness, our ability and propensity to cruise on autopilot. To undertake missional listening is asking us to do something awkward and difficult – because most of us don’t do it much and so we don’t feel it’s natural, we don’t feel competent. Most of the time our questions aren’t “in whom am I noticing the Holy Spirit has moved this week?” or “How is God prompting us at this time?” but “can we fix the roof, pay the bills, get that family to stick?”
So what’s the good news then? Well, that missional listening doesn’t start with the draining assumption “we’ve got to sort all this out”, but with the much more energising presumption “God’s up to something, pay attention”. Missional listening is just the start of realising this whole journey is a spiritual journey with God at its heart. This is difficult for us – the studies show that people who come into church to grow spiritually, after three years, are more concerned to keep the church going than with their spiritual journey. Institutionalisation is a powerful thing. But missional listening is one of a number of habits that reminds us, this is God’s work and we are to tune in and make it about God.
And of course one of the key ways God speaks to us is through one another. For example a vicar tells of a six year old in his congregation learning with astonishment that there were poor people in the area unable to afford to have 3 meals a day. He said “can we get tinned food for the poor children round here?” The vicar said “Sure, we can collect tins and put them in a foodbank”. The six year old thought about this for a moment and then said “can’t we make friends with the poor people and give them the food?” Maybe God was making a point through the six year old. In fact the vicar was convinced that God was making a point and that “missional listening” led to a wholly different engagement with a part of the local community which was genuinely good news. Another church which had listened to the local community realised that one of the expenses many of the young families faced was that of school uniforms so they set up a school shop for people locally – and those on free school meals only had to pay £5 for the whole uniform. One woman from the community who came to at a BBQ social the church held from the community was asked “have you seen the school shop?” “Yes, but I don’t have any money” was her reply. “It’s only £5” came the response. At which point she began to cry. And then someone else stumped up the £5. Good news through listening to the local community AND which led to creating a space for us to be neighbours, neighbours loving one another. Or at a different church on an estate in the Midlands, after some time of listening the church held a free BBQ and fun afternoon for the community. A local woman asked “why are you doing this?”, to which the reply came “well we realise lots of families are stressed and in need of support so we’re doing something, however small, to help”. To which the local woman replied “oh I get that, my husband is tired out – how can I be of help?”. Missional listening leading to partnering with people of peace that led on to forging new relationships and possibilities.
There are lots of other examples but the point is made – missional listening is about the church, the people of God, to be people who, everywhere we go, hear, listen, anticipate and see God at work; to be people who notice people hospitable to partnering with us in God’s work; and to be people able to invite others into partnering in living out of the Kingdom of God.
This blog was contributed by Bishop Mike Harrison, who is a member of the Ipswich in Prayer accountability group.
I wonder what it is that you think of when you think of the future of the church. Some might consider that the church is in decline and her best days are behind her. Many consider the church irrelevant and backwards. The bible holds a different view: the church is the hope of the world, the pillar of the truth, the family of God on earth, the bride of Christ. Jesus loves the church and gave himself up for her. We must have his perspective of the church. The church is God’s 'plan a’ for reaching a dying world with the good news of Jesus’ death & resurrection. The church is at the forefront of the advance of the Kingdom of God. We’re not to be clinging on by our fingertips until Jesus returns, we’re to be at the forefront of the increase of his government and peace that will know no end (Isaiah 9:7).
Something so key to gospel advance is prayer. In a way that I can’t adequately explain, God has ordained prayer as a means by which he will make things happen that wouldn’t happen if we did not pray. The church in Acts were constantly in prayer (Acts 1:14) and throughout the story the church gathered to pray: when they needed wisdom they prayed, when they were stepping out to reach new ground they prayed, when in crisis they prayed. God longs for us to be a church that re-discovers the power of prayer. Below are some ingredients to effective prayer.
1) Confidence before God.
We will not pray effectively if we are bogged down by a sense of condemnation. In fact we will run from God if we believe that we are not good enough to come into his presence. The good news is that he’s qualified us, as a gift. When we place our faith in Jesus, we are covered in his righteousness and this isn’t just for the start of our walk with God - it’s for the rest of our lives. This means we can come before God the Father in prayer in a way that we could if we had lived the life of perfect obedience that Jesus lived! In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence (Eph 3:12). The ESV puts it slightly differently, saying that we come before the Father with boldness!
And he wants us to ask him for things. Paul Miller says that "almost all of Jesus’ teaching on prayer can be summarised in one word: Ask".
2) Praying Back the Promises of God
One thing we can pray with absolute confidence are the promises of God in scripture of which there are over 3000. Just as my children (with faith in my faithfulness) remind me when I have promised them an ice cream, I believe that God is honoured when, in faith, we take his promises back to him in prayer. Jacob did this in Genesis 32 when he reminded God of the promises over his life - “you said…” We can take the promises of God that we find in places like Philippians 4:19, James 1:5, Matt 9:38, 1 Tim 2:4 and use them as fuel for our intercession.
3) Praying Specifically and Persistently
Of course it is OK to pray general prayers. But as Bartimaeus found in Mark chapter 10, Jesus does want us to ask him for specific things. As Mark Batterson says: “Nuanced prayers give God an opportunity to reveal more shades of His sovereignty. If our prayers aren’t specific, God gets robbed of the glory he deserves because we second guess whether or not he actually answered them.”
So what are you asking God specifically for? George Müller, who cared for 10,000 orphans over the course of his life was a master of specific and persistent prayer. He journaled his prayers and calculated that he had seen over 50,000 answers to specific prayer over the course of his lifetime. 30,000 of these prayers were answered on the same days that they were prayed. This teaches us two things - to ask God for specific things will encourage us greatly as we see one by one his answer before our very eyes. Secondly it teaches us that sometimes prayers aren’t answered straight away. Sometimes we need to persist in prayer. Jesus would have us persist in prayer sometimes (Luke 18:1-8) so that we can grow muscles in prayer and learn to trust God even when things don’t immediately change.
I finish with this fantastic quote from Jonathan Edwards, who began a mighty prayer movement in his day.
"It is very apparent from the Word of God that He often tries the faith and patience of His people, when they are crying to Him for some great and important mercy, by withholding the mercy sought for a season; and not only so, but at first He may cause an increase of dark appearances. And yet He, without fail, at last prospers those who continue urgently in prayer with all perseverance and "will not let him go except He blesses.”
Let’s be a people of prayer as we ask for his Kingdom to come in increasing measure here in Ipswich and in the surrounding areas.
This blog was contributed by Tom Scrivens and is taken from his talk at the 'Empowered' united Pentecost service.
Tom is the Eldership Team Leader at Hope Church in Ipswich. He also leads Sent, a movement of 18-30s across Relational Mission.
As I write this in March more snow is forecast for the weekend! This made me think back to a prophetic picture my son painted for me 2 years ago which has been precious to me in ministry ever since. He knew that the C. S. Lewis’s books called Chronicles of Narnia are favourites of mine. No doubt this was in his mind as he drew this.
As a reminder the land of Narnia had been held in the grip of winter – “always winter and never Christmas” so we read in the book ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’. The White Witch cast her spell on Narnia, decreeing that it must be always winter and never Christmas. So when the four Pevensey children first arrive in this amazing place, the fields are covered with snow. But Aslan, the true king, who is a royal lion, has returned to save the Narnia kingdom from the White Witch. This change is seen in a scene with the children and the Narnians, Mr. and Mrs. Beaver. Father Christmas arrives with sleigh bells jingling and at once the children and the beavers suspect that the White Witch is losing her powers.
“I’ve come at last,” said he. “She has kept me out for a long time, but I have got in at last. Aslan is on the move. The witch’s magic is weakening.” And Lucy felt that deep shiver of gladness that you only get if you are being solemn and still.
This figure of snow melting is one way that Lewis describes the last stage of his own experience of religious conversion. He describes his own conversion, with all its fits and starts, in Surprised by Joy. He uses vivid words and images to describe his inner change of heart. “I felt as if I were a man of snow at long last beginning to melt.”
Lewis’s image of snow melting is a good one suggesting how someone’s coldness of heart may be slowly changed into a warmer, living heart for God. It’s no surprise that Lewis later used this image of snow enlarging it to a whole snowy kingdom under the White Witch’s spell. When the snow of Narnia melts, Lewis is suggesting how winter in our hearts gives way to a springtime of faith. It’s wonderful imagery and speaks today as clearly as ever.
The picture my son painted I believe for me portrayed a new season and challenge that God was moving me into. And the melting snow shows signs of life springing up along the way. It was and is very much a picture of hope as I daily try follow in the lion’s footsteps. You can probably guess that for Lewis the great lion Aslan is a picture of the Lord Jesus. It was also interesting to me that I was unable to see the lion’s face.
I believe for us as a Church united in Ipswich the message may well be the same. God is on the move, he is doing new things, and he wants us to follow faithfully in his footsteps, not running ahead of him. As we faithfully follow we will see hearts melted for Christ and new disciples being made.
I wanted to share this picture for everyone’s thoughts and prayers as I firmly believe that God is determined to work through his Church especially so in Ipswich. Let’s follow the Master, the King, and trust him to use us for his glory and his kingdom’s extension.
Nick Atkins is Rector of St Matthews, All Saints and Triangle Benefice, Ipswich and part of the Ipswich in prayer acountability group.
The love of Christ has drawn us together. Let us live in him abounding in thanksgiving.’
These are the words at lunchtime Grace in Mucknell Abbey, a Benedictine Community of monks and nuns from the Anglican and Methodist Churches, near Worcester. At the beginning of March, I spent four days there, in conversation with three others leaders of ‘new monastic communities’ and two members of the community at Mucknell.
At Mucknell, seven times a day a bell rings, the signal to leave whatever you are doing, for the most important work to be done in the monastery: prayer. Everyone gathers in the simple, but beautiful chapel, to say and sing the divine office, consisting of sentences, psalms and readings from scripture. I love the beauty of the communal prayer and feel carried and nourished by the regular pattern of coming before God to listen and pray.
Whilst Mucknell is nestled in the countryside outside the city of Worcester, many of the ‘new monastic communities’ are called to be in urban contexts, and here in Ipswich this is true for the St Thomas Pilgrim Community, located in the north-west of the town.
The prayer of any monastic community is for God’s transformation of the world and the lives and situations of all those whom they touch. So it is in the St. Thomas Pilgrim Community that our prayer is for God’s transformation of the lives of the people of Ipswich and the wider world.
I came away from the conversation I was part of in Mucknell with two key insights, which are valuable for any of us feeling called to a more contemplative way of faith:
1. ‘The divine office is key, and the fact that we do it together.’
Even for monks and nuns, whose work it is to pray, other demands may get in way. Like those of us who have jobs, families, church and other voluntary commitments, they have many demands on their time and find themselves as stretched as we are, having to prioritize and manage their commitments. What makes the difference for them? The call of the bell!
Br Stuart shared the story of how he realized that the call to go to pray takes precedence over everything else – ‘a bit like, when death calls us and we have to let go of everything else’.
As a novice, ironing shirts in the basement of the priory with half a shirt left to iron, the bell went. In order to get back to chapel on time, he had to leave straight away; there was no time to finish the last shirt. The highest priority is to pray. No matter how frustrating it might be to leave the ironing unfinished so close to completing the job.
How many times have I deferred going to prayer – either my personal prayer or going to communal prayers, because I had an email to finish or some other task to complete? How many times have I not got to my prayer time at all, because something else seemed more pressing? And yet, when I make prayer a regular commitment in my day or week, I notice how I am much more aware of the presence of God in my life and in the people I encounter, how everything else falls into perspective.
2. Silence and hospitality.
In a monastery, the community spends time in silence together in chapel, at meals, as well as observing periods of silence throughout the day. At the St Thomas Pilgrim Community we host a Christian meditation group where we meet for silent prayer together once a week, and by doing so support and encourage each other in our personal practice of silent prayer. We also offer the Vicarage as a space for individuals or small groups for quiet days – a place for spiritual nourishment and refreshment in Ipswich.
John Main, a Benedictine Monk and teacher on Christian Meditation says ‘God is with his people. God dwells in our midst. And that is why we meditate. To be open to God’s presence. The presence is eternal. Our awakening to it is daily. We awaken to the great Revelation that transforms human consciousness and existence: “I heard a loud voice proclaiming, now at last, God has his dwelling among the human race. He will dwell among them and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be with them. (Revelation 21.3) (John Main, ‘The Way of Unknowing’ in ‘Silence and Stillness in every season’, March 3).
For the St Thomas Pilgrim community a commitment to a regular pattern of prayer and the practice of silence is at the heart of our calling to serve God’s mission in Ipswich. Most of the members of this developing community live in and around Ipswich, and we have space for four residential community members at the St Thomas’ Vicarage.
The conversations at Mucknell Abbey confirmed my sense of calling to develop an intentional community here to serve the mission of God in North West Ipswich and beyond, in particular the call to be a place of prayer, hospitality and listening to God.
The weekly pattern of prayer and monthly extended prayer meetings are on our website and facebook page. Everyone is welcome to join us or get in touch to come for a quiet day.
‘The love of Christ has drawn us together. Let us live in him abounding in thanksgiving.’
The Revd Jutta Brueck is in Priest-in-charge of St. Thomas’ Church, Bramford Lane, and Leader of the St Thomas Pilgrim Community, an intentional Christian Community with residential and non-residential members. For more info see the IIP website page on the St Thomas Community
Exciting new plans for Ipswich well underway
Over the last few years, Ipswich has repeatedly been one of East Anglia’s fastest growing economies. Subsequently, it has qualified for priority development funding from the highest levels of government. This reflects a principle of God’s kingdom; whoever has, to him more will be given, Jesus said (Matt 13:12). In other words, if you can faithfully steward what you have, you’ll get more.
As a result, a new initiative is now well under way to help co-ordinate the increasing opportunities for further development and regeneration, and make the most of the town’s fortunes.
Called Ipswich Vision, this initiative is a unique partnership involving seven of Ipswich’s major ‘gatekeepers’. These seven public figureheads are joining forces to take responsibility for establishing Suffolk’s county town as a place where people want to be and where businesses want to invest.
These partners include both Ipswich Borough & Suffolk County councils, the New Anglia LEP, Sandy Martin MP, the local chamber of commerce, our local university, and a body called Ipswich Central (a business development company responsible for supporting businesses in the town centre).
To achieve their aims, the partners have identified priority areas that must be addressed, including infrastructure, leisure and tourism, housing, regeneration and enterprise.
Across the UK, major civic bodies rarely collaborate in this way. Ipswich Vision is so unique that other towns and cities in the region are looking this way to see if they can learn something from our experience. It’s proving to be a very effective and productive way of implementing change, as 21 significant projects have been initiated to help transform the town centre, and by extension the town itself.
Some of these projects have already been completed (like the remodelling of Ipswich train station) some are now well underway (like the regeneration of Princes Street corridor as an enterprise zone) and some are still emerging from planning (like the new bridge crossings near the Waterfront).
But why is this so significant to Christians? Jesus gave us a great commission to disciple nations (Matt 28:19). Thinking about how we might do that practically, we know historically that nations follow our cities' lead and cities shape culture. And culture is driven by values.
In other words, no matter how profound our plans are for shaping nations that have a heart for reaching the unchurched, the harassed and helpless, the broken, the hurting, the marginalised and the poor, if the prevailing culture resists compassion, inclusiveness, restoration, redemption, mercy and love, then the work of the kingdom (that the Lamb will receive the reward of His suffering) encounters greater resistance – within as well as outside the church.
So if we’re going to serve our nation with the good news of the kingdom, we are to be salt and light in our towns and cities – adding flavour and brightening signs of life with Christian values that make a difference on the streets where we live, work and play.
Now we know that God has a mind to use strong cities because that’s one of the places He gets to show His marvellous kindness (Ps 31:21). And we know He never changes; He’s the same yesterday and forever. Therefore, we can believe that God’s heart for Ipswich is that it becomes a strong place of refuge, enterprise, opportunity, social mobility and healing – a place where God’s incredible kindness prevails.
To that end, will you pray for Ipswich Vision and for Suffolk’s county town? Perhaps together we can help create a place that looks increasingly like a strong city where God shows many His marvel-inducing kindness in a whole host of social and economic settings.
Give thanks: that God loves Ipswich and its people, is blessing the town and is showing us His favour and goodness
Give thanks: let’s be thankful that despite political differences and different agendas, the Ipswich Vision partners are constructively sitting around a table together for the benefit of the town, collaborating as best they can
Ask: that God will use these men and women from the public sector to help create a strong town where God’s kindness can be revealed to many
Bless: the partners’ deliberations, that they’ll have wisdom to know how best to apply their efforts for the good of the town, as well as work well together in increasingly committed relationships
Ask: God to bless the work of their hands, so that these projects will have the effects they were intended to create and more
Ask: God to bless Ipswich with heart, compassion and kindness as He blesses the town’s economy
Ask: that Ipswich will know that all good gifts come from the Father of lights, and that we will remember Him from where our increasing prosperity has come from
Rob Wright is a copywriter and graphic designer who has been running his own business in Ipswich since 1992. He has been involved in helping to design and produce the new Ipswich Vision website, where you can find out more about this initiative, as well as the projects currently underway or completed.
It’s that time of year – returning to the daily routine after perhaps only a short break but a break nonetheless. Hopes for a new year tempered by wintry weather, dark nights and rather relentless news bulletins. But there was one little story in the twitter feed that caught my heart and gave me a glimmer of hope for good things.
Victoria Wood is a much missed talent, whose writing, singing and performing brought joy to many. Her wit was never directed at a person or delivered at the expense of another. She seemed to have a keen perception of our absurdities and an ability to create characters and dialogue that made you laugh at us not them. A wonderful mixture of pathos and humour that does make one laugh out loud. Life is absurd and we would do well to enjoy the absurdity. I seem to recall reading somewhere that complaining and grumbling is not recommended.
Anyway, I am a fan of Victoria.
Well, it was revealed recently that she would seek out a clip recorded back in the ‘80s which she watched each and every year simply because it gave her joy.
I would trust her judgement, anything that gave her joy is probably worth a look. That clip is the introduction to Highway, a religious programme from ITV with Harry Secombe, which, one year, was recorded in what was the new shopping centre in our own home town.
Now, you may go to seek out the clip and watch a dance routine put together by a group of people just having fun. No real reason, no deep and meaningful endeavour but just because they wanted to. You may watch it and be disappointed and think of it as rather dated and laughable.
But don’t laugh at – laugh with. Look for, and cultivate joy. Don’t be quick to judge, be quick to join in with the joy and the absurdity of it all.
Our town has its share of being newsworthy for the wrong reasons but with this Ipswich is in the news just for bringing joy to someone whom the Lord gifted with bringing joy to the nation.
Joy is one of the fruit of the presence of God. So, for this year may we seek joy - and pursue it. Be countercultural, find things to celebrate and highlight the joy in the middle of the muddle!
This guest blog was contributed by Chrissie McLean. Chrissie has lived in Ipswich since 1994, when God called her here from Hampshire and she's never looked back. She has been part of Hope Church for 21 years, where she has been serving and singing in the worship team.
From seed to fruitfulness is the theme for January’s “Crown Him with many Crowns” event, and we on the Ipswich in Prayer team have been reflecting on this theme in our preparations.
A particular verse from the Parable of the Sower, as told by Jesus in Matthew 13, has been particularly uppermost in our minds over the last week or so.
That verse comes at the conclusion of the parable, where Jesus said, “Still other seed fell on fertile soil, where it produced a crop - a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
Many “seeds” have been planted in and around Ipswich over the last few years. Town Pastors is an example of a well grown plant bearing fruit; Talitha Koum has gradually been growing to maturity; other initiatives such as CYM’s school chaplaincy are in their infancy; and some like Open Up (responding to domestic abuse in the Church) are still germinating, and just poking their heads above the surface.
Isn’t it good to see God at work, and His Kingdom advancing in our town. Even fully mature plants still need tending, and the young ones call for much care.
Paul talks in 1 Corinthians 3 of how he planted the seed, Apollos watered it, “but God has been making it grow”.
Paul is addressing the Corinthian Church at this point in light of a background of jealousy and quarreling, some following Apollos, some Paul. But Paul’s plea is for unity. He says that both he and Apollos are merely servants, each assigned to his task by the Lord, both, he says, having one purpose.
Good ground for seeds to be planted, is surely fertilised by unity, and by prayer.
Psalm 133 tells us that there is a place where the Lord commands a blessing - where we dwell together in unity. God, we are told many times in the Bible, responds to the prayers of his people.
With all the needs in our town and our nation today, the need for God’s presence and blessing has never been more apparent. Please come and pray with us “Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will be done” as we move in to 2018.
Over the coming month, as we lead up to the Crown Him event, let’s reflect and pray, asking God collectively and individually “What seeds are you wanting to plant here?” In our own lives and in our collective life as His body, here in this town which He loves so much.
Let’s be praying for those plants and seeds already mentioned - Town Pastors, TK, CYM chaplains, Open Up, together with the Winter Night Shelter and other initiatives that come to mind, that lives would be touched and transformed this Christmas by the Saviour’s presence - Immanuel, God with us.
Pray too for our church leaders, worship leaders, all those who will be speaking, singing, or acting out the love of God in our churches and communities as Christmas approaches. May it be an extra special time, and may many seeds fall into fertile ground in hearts, minds and lives.
Crown Him with many Crowns, the Lamb upon His throne.
I am writing today about doors. Why? Because I seem to be encountering a trail of thoughts about them.
Six days ago, driving on my way home from a coffee with the ‘gym girls’, I suddenly thought of the famous painting by William Holman Hunt, based on Christ’s words in Revelation 3:20, and named “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” The thought came from nowhere, but seemed to open the door (!) to a stream of thoughts and encounters with doors.
Five days previously we had returned from a lovely holiday in Derbyshire with friends, where we had stayed in a beautiful, recently converted Church. Preparing to go to Church on the Sunday morning, we found ourselves locked in our holiday home - this door was absolutely, definitely NOT going to open. (The locksmith later discovered all the metal work inside the lock crumbled away). The big double doors of the old church were still negotiable, and after struggling with locks, bolts, and metal bars, some of our party managed to exit and be on their way to worship, but we stayed behind, as there was no way, once out, of locking the building.
Back to last Wednesday and the sudden bursting in to my thought zone of Mr. Holman Hunt, or maybe, more accurately, Jesus.
Coming home and going to hang the washing out in the garden, what did I notice, leaning against our ‘waiting to be chopped’ pile of wood? A door. No hinges, nothing behind it but logs, paint peeling, glass broken. Where it came from, who put it there or gave it to us and when, I have no clue - but my senses became alert - what is all this with doors?
Later the same morning, I opened, rather randomly, a rather random book at a totally random page - to read these words from a prayer:
“Help me to listen to the signs of change, of growth;
To listen seriously and follow where they lead
Through the breath taking empty space of an open door”.
Now God had me seriously listening and questioning, I have been asking, praying, meditating - what are you saying Lord? To me? To the Church in Ipswich?
This morning (Tuesday May 9th) at the weekly IIP Leaders Prayer meeting, someone read the words of Revelation 3:20 from the Message version, in the middle of the meeting, as we prayed “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done”.
“The people I love, I call to account - prod and correct and guide so that they’ll live at their best.
Up on your feet then! About face! Run after God!
Look at me. I stand at the door. I knock. If you hear me call and open the door, I’ll come right in and sit down to supper with you.
Conquerors will sit alongside me at the head table, just as I, having conquered, took the place of honour at the side of my Father. That’s my gift to the conquerors.
Are your ears awake? Listen. Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit being blown through the churches.”
This, I believe is what all the door encounters are pointing to, drawing attention to, shouting out loud.
“Listen”, Christ says, “Are your ears awake?”
As we approach the ten days of prayer from Ascension to Pentecost, and join in prayer as God’s people in Ipswich, and with God’s people across the nation, praying “Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will be done”, let’s unwax our ears, open them up and listen.
The Lord, speaking through the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 29:13) said “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart”.
Are we - am I - ready to listen, to seek, to commit with all our heart, as together we respond to his call and open the door?
November 2016 saw the opening up of the Talitha Koum Hope Centre to provide a safe place for women to recover from addiction.
Ten years previously, Ipswich had been in the midst of tragedy, with the terrible loss of five young women. The journey towards The Hope Centre had begun even earlier than that. Looking back at IIP journals as we stood on the threshold of the opening this year, I discovered something very significant.
On January 1st 2004 in my journal I have written a short entry:
Look backward with gratitude;
Look forward with hope;
Look upward with confidence.
Continuing to read through the first six months of 2004, to rediscover the very beginning of the TK journey, was very uplifting because the seed that was to fall into the ground and grow into Talitha Koum and the Hope Centre, fell into a fertile field of prayer.
On Saturday 17th January 2004 I recorded that we met together at St Peters, Stoke Park for the 3rd "Crown Him with Many Crowns" event, where prayer was the major theme.
Prayer walls were building up well, with many many people signing up for a weekly 30 minute slot to pray for Ipswich, '40 days of prayer for Ipswich' booklets were selling like hot cakes, the prayer co-ordinator from the Evangelical Alliance came to speak, and the 1st Prayer School opened on February 2nd with 65 attendees from 14 different churches - "Lord, teach us to pray".
Looking on through the next couple of months, church leaders were gathering to pray on a monthly basis, young people were coming together regularly at Powersurge prayer events, Prayer Watch events were taking place, praying for specific areas of town life (education, police, etc)and regional prayer meetings were taking place regularly, as people travelled to Bury, Norwich and Diss to pray for East Anglia.
Later in the year, in May, we prayer walked the 24 miles of the town boundary as part of a week of prayer where prayer was taking place across the town in different venues every day. This prayer walk was followed by others around strategic areas of the town.
On March 11th 2004, right in the middle of this six month period, a visit took place from Liverpool by a lady called Sue, who leads Comunity Watchmen Ministries in Liverpool. Liverpool at the time was the drugs capital of the U.K., and God had called Sue and others to pray, and amazing things were happening. Today Liverpool is a very different place, both physically and spiritually - that is the power of prayer.
This led us to ask the question: How should we respond here in Ipswich? What was God asking of us?
On July 28th 2004, as a group of 7 ordinary people met to pray for the first time about this, a seed was planted, a vision was birthed - a residential centre, on a farm, where people could come for help, for prayer, for healing from addictive behaviours.
The verses that we were given on that day were the words of the prophet Isaiah, which Jesus himself quoted as he began his ministry.
'The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
Because the Lord has anointed me
To preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted,
To proclaim freedom for the captives
And release from darkness for the prisoners,
To proclaim the year of the Lord's favour
And the day of vengeance of our God,
To comfort all who mourn,
And provide for those who grieve in Zion -
To bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
The oil of gladness instead of mourning,
And a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
A planting of the Lord for the display of His splendour.' (Isaiah 61:1-3)
The vision for Talitha Koum (which means "little girl get up" as spoken by Jesus) was a God given vision.
Travel forward in time about two and a half years. Two weeks before the awful discovery of the first body, that of Gemma Adams on December 2nd 2006, I received an email. God had spoken to a local Christian farmer who was offering his land for the building of the now open Hope Centre.
Throughout Biblical narrative and human history, celebration and lamentation have walked side by side. In the midst of pain, God is present. Ten years on we remember, and we continue to pray for the families of Tania Nichol, Anneli Alderton, Gemma Adams, Annette Nicholls and Paula Clennell. We pray that God would comfort them in their ongoing pain, and that the Hope Centre would provide a lasting legacy, and hope for the future.
Sometimes God seems to take, in our economy, an awful long time to do things. But He is faithful, He is working in ways we do not see and are unable to comprehend. But that which He has planted, will come to fruition.
The Lord said to the prophet Habakkuk,
"Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it.
For the revelation awaits an appointed time".
Many have run with the TK vision for many years, but the appointed time has arrived. We give thanks to a faithful, loving, restoring and releasing God and pray for each and every lady who comes in through the doors of the Hope Centre, that lives would be transformed.
Let's rediscover the power of prayer, seeking God's heart together, listening to Him, making ourselves available for that which He desires to do, in order that we would see His Kingdom come and His will be done here in Ipswich as it is in Heaven.
PRAYER, UNITY AND LOVE
Picture the scene. A group of people gathered together, waiting for what would be a new and powerful encounter with God: Acts 2 tells of the gathering in the Upper Room. Just as Jesus had promised, the Holy Spirit moved powerfully among them and 'clothed them with power from on high'. What a transformation! This was a glorious fulfilment of prophecy and a demonstration of God's love.
Now fast forward to 1906...to another gathering of people in Los Angeles, USA. A small group of Christians had been meeting to pray for baptism in the Holy Spirit. They were in one accord and expectant for a new and powerful encounter with God. Slowly at first, one, then another, then more and more, were baptised in the Holy Spirit and began speaking in tongues. Soon crowds gathered and people were overcome by God's presence and power even as they approached the building. The message of the meetings was one of love. There was unity in place of deep division. Healings and miracles took place and many were saved. Revival brings transformation.
The Azusa Street revival followed a similar outpouring in Wales in 1904-5. Around the world, others were experiencing the power of God, spreading from Azusa Street or rising up spontaneously. Although the intensity of this revival diminished over time, the legacy is felt to this day in churches and Christian groups around the world.
The hallmarks of these former revivals were prayer, unity and love - as a result of the hunger and desire for revival as well as in response to the Holy Spirit's outpouring. At a celebration of the 110th anniversary of the Azusa Street revival, earlier this year in Los Angeles, thousands of Christians gathered to pray in unity, with a focus on racial reconciliation, crying out for a spiritual revival to sweep across the nation. There were many reports of healings and powerful encounters with God during the meeting.
For those of us who long to see spiritual revival in our town and in our own nation, to bring transformation, restoration and healing to a broken world at a time of great uncertainty, let's come together now - in one accord and with expectancy - and pray fervently for unity and love across all churches and communities in our town.
Then our voices can be raised in unity to cry out 'Come Holy Spirit!'
These blogs are written by different people from the IIP team. They are prompted by the things we talk about and pray about when we meet together and by words shared from the praying community in Ipswich.